The Face Pressed Against A Window (A Memoir) – Tim Waterstone

I heard about The Face Pressed Against A Window (A Memoir) written by Tim Waterstone whilst listening to Iain Dale’s Book Club podcast and immediately ordered a copy. I always love a book about books and people inspired by books.

We follow the story of Tim Waterstone and how he was inspired to build his book empire from start to finish. It is certainly an interesting and inspirational read and one that I simply could not put down.

Tim tells the warts and all about the life of a bookseller and the hurdles he had to jump over, from publishing houses turning their backs on him, to being laughed out of the bank when he went for a business loan. What I felt throughout this memoir was the passion Tim had for books and getting his bookshop right for his customers.

“Waterstone’s was a statement of personal confidence and drive and tenacity, a statement of personal confidence and drive and tenacity, a statement that great things can be achieved, a statement that vision matters, that leadership matters, that culture matters, that books matter.”

Tim was very particular about his staff as he wanted passionate book lovers who had just left university to gain experience and knowledge from Waterstone’s. What I also loved about Tim’s thought process was that if he had unhappy staff, then he would rather be told by them and for the staff member to move on to allow someone new with enthusiasm to take their place. Waterstone’s also relied on staff members on the ground to be their buyers as it was felt that they really knew and understood what their customer wanted rather than a centralized buying department. I did not know this happened, and I love the personalized service Waterstones used to offer and establish a good understanding of what their customers want and need. Although, I have to say recently in my local Waterstones I felt there was a lack of choice and I knew more about specific books than the staff did as they relied on their manager to know almost everything which was a little disappointing.

“It was at this point that he developed his mantra, communicated to us all more with determination than heart: –

Perfect stock

Perfect staff

Perfect control

As a statement of intent for the business it encapsulated exactly what mattered, a reliable and brilliant range of books; bookish staff and then control, and this remained the burden of TW’s. We were all massive enthusiasts, purchasing every book published.”

Tim not only wrote about Waterstone’s, but also about his family especially his difficult relationship with his father. I do not want to go into too much detail as you will need to read the book. However, I could feel my heart breaking at his father’s approach to Tim and perhaps a lack of understanding where it comes to dealing with military life. From my own experience, my husband had developed an understanding that our children may say things, not out of hurt but because they lacked any understanding especially when he was away with the Royal Air Force and being so young, they lacked any coping strategies to deal with any emotions they may have had. You could feel this moment really was a pivotal point in Tim’s life and you could feel his determination brewing to be a someone. To do it for himself, to prove a point. And you know what, he has done pretty well and should be very proud of his achievements. Not only did he establish some amazing book shops, but promoted reading and literacy throughout the country and established book communities, even during the difficult times such as recession and when technology changed and e-readers become a thing.

What I found the most entertaining is Tim’s relationship with WH Smith’s, again, I am not going to go into too much detail but it is an interesting dynamic and an interesting relationship that was established earlier than you expect.

I, myself like to go into bookshops, I like to talk with the staff and find out what they recommend, I still like to purchase books, it is an experience that cannot be replaced by e-readers.

The Face Pressed Against A Window, is a beautiful fairytale of Tim’s life and love of books. He had a vision so early about what he wanted in a bookshop and he did not disappoint and was able to make this dream a reality. Even now I could feel his passion for Waterstone’s still there and not waning despite his fights he has had over the years about keeping Waterstone’s brand as it was when he first established his first book shop in the 80s. What was most impressive was Tim’s influence over his staff members and his vision becoming theirs and their help and guidance all lead to the success of Waterstone’s. This is a must-read book, and Tim is certainly a role model in the literary world.

About the Book

Tim Waterstone is one of Britain’s most successful businessmen, having built the Waterstone’s empire that started with one small bookshop in 1982.

In this charming and evocative memoir, he recalls the childhood experience that led him to become an entrepreneur and outlines the business philosophy that allowed Waterstone’s to dominate the bookselling business throughout the country.

Tim explores his formative years in a small town in rural England at the end of the Second World War, and the troubled relationship he had with his father, before moving to the epiphany he had while studying at Cambridge, which set him on the road to Waterstone’s and gave birth to the creative strategy that made him a high street name, and Waterstone’s the largest booksellers in Europe.

The Face Pressed Against A Window is available here

The Face Pressed Against A Window is published by Atlantic Books

To listen to the interview of Tim, please click Iain Dale Book Club

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The Girl On The Page – John Purcell

Whilst I was in the UK, I have heard so many good things about The Girl on the Page and John Purcell. From what I read, he is a man that knows his stuff about books, as he used to have his own bookshop. So, as soon as I saw a copy of The Girl on the Page at Perth airport, I left the children with my husband and immediately had to purchase this book (I also use any excuse to have five minutes peace from the children).

I was so excited to get this book started, I abandoned what I was reading and immediately started reading this novel.

We follow the story of Amy Winston who is a young, up and coming editor. She has an interesting method to her editing style, but it seems to work and she seems to get results and is able to get the best out of her authors. She certainly has an interesting lifestyle which is very sociable and busy and she fits in work whenever she can, by breaking into other people’s laptops to edit a manuscript. I would say that she loves work and has a passion for literature, but does not maintain the regular 9 to 5 hours one would expect and would not fit the usual editor mold.

Amy’s next project is to edit the novel of a well-known author, Helen Owens who seems to be stuck in rut and is unable to move on and produce her next novel. The other problem with Helen and her publishers is, the amount of money Helen has been paid and yet nothing has been produced. Helen seems to be struggling with what her identity is and what her readers may want from her. Helen is married to Malcolm Taylor who has spent most of their married life writing together in a small, intimate office but things have changed and Malcolm is struggling with the changes that have occurred. I could feel Malcolm’s eyebrows raise when Amy introduces herself as Helen’s new editor. He judges straightaway that Amy does not know anything about the literary world and what Helen stands for. I was fascinated with the changing perspectives of Malcolm once he gets to know Amy a little better and you can almost feel that he may have judged too soon and may have got his opinions wrong. He also seems amazed by Amy taking on his advice and listening to his views about the literature world he knows.

Amy is also dealing with her boss Julie, who seems to be the most unbookish person I have ever met in the book world. She is just a numbers person and I felt she was out of her depth and maybe a little envious of Amy, as she seemed to get results, positive results which left the publishing house and the author happy and supportive. Isn’t that the best way to work? I wanted to ask Julie when she last picked up a book, as I would not be too surprised it was not for a long time.

Amy is certainly not what you expect an editor to be, she does what she wants, when she wants, but to me the main thing is that she gets the end results and her authors she supports seems to love her and respect her. What I felt most about Amy was her loneliness it was immense. Her family are not around for her, and she has a co-dependent relationship on her friends. She tried to maintain these friendships on her terms, which did not always work out in her favour or as she anticipated. However, she seems to have certain people who were her fall back and protected her as and when she needed them to.

Amy also helps out Liam who is a thriller writer. She approaches both him and his publishers about his books and is able to make him the next hotshot writer. Amy seems to lack the confidence that she is amazing at her job and actually she could really be something in the literary world and she has many many positive talents which could be made of good use.

We meet Amy’s ex-Max. I was not overly keen on him as a character, I felt he was a book snob and that he would have judged what I read as not being good enough. I considered my reading choices to be a bit like Amy’s, in that I would read anything and everything and would not necessarily judge its just reading. Max seems to be a negative and a positive in Amy’s life, I was willing her to move on with her life and concentrate on her work and herself. She seems to lack any self-care in her life or self-worth. But I adored her and wanted to spend time with her, let her teach me the tricks of the trade and find out what her favourite reads are and what she would recommend. I could see her now being very popular on social media.

We go on the dare I say it “literary journey” of not only Helen but Malcolm. Their writing styles changing and adapting to the changes happening in the literary world. Changes happening in their own lives. Living with happiness and sadness and trying to work their way out of the rut they have got themselves him and whether they can meet the new expectations that is set out before them.

At the moment, I reflect the book industry especially when it comes down to blogging it seems there is competition with bloggers trying to read as many books or read the newest books. I do not really care, I just want to read, read what I fancy at that particular time to fit my mood, not to promote new books. And with publishers only picking up bloggers with the most numbers and not considering the new bloggers or helping to support and establish new bloggers, I find the industry a bit of a let down at the moment. I hope my views change.

Anyway, back to this amazing book. If you love books about books and about the book industry this is certainly a book for you. I loved it from the first page to the last and I will be re-reading this book again. Which, by the way is something I never do. You could feel John’s passion for books and the book industry oozing from the pages and I loved the reading choices at the back of the novel for each of the characters. I am going to be reading some of their recommendations as they would be books that perhaps I would not have considered picking up.

All I can say as my conclusion for this book is, John, when is your next book coming out…….

About the Book

Amy Winston is a hard-drinking, bed-hopping, hot-shot young book editor on a downward spiral. Having made her name and fortune by turning an average thriller writer into a Lee Child, Amy is given the unenviable task of steering literary great Helen Owns back to publication.

When Amy knocks on the door of their beautiful townhouse in West London, Helen and her husband, the novelist Malcolm Taylor, are conducting a silent war of attrition. The townhouse has been paid for with the enormous seven-figure advance Helen has received for the novel she wrote to end fifty years of making ends meet on critical acclaim alone. The novel Malcolm thinks unworthy of her. The novel Helen is yet to deliver. The novel Amy has come to collect.

Amy has never faced a challenge like this one. Helen and Malcolm are brilliant, complicated writers who unsettle Amy into asking questions of herself – questions about what she values. Before she knows it, answering these questions becomes a matter of life and death.

“The novel has never held a position of importance in society. This importance is a fantasy of novelist, their publishers, their critics and their most earnest admirers. Even arranged the privileged minority who read regularly, the novel is regarded as a form of entertainment only. As entertainment the novel is very much alive. More novels are being read today than at any time in our history. They’re just not the kind of novels I, would choose to read.”

The Girl On The Page is published by 4th estate and is available to purchase here.

To find out more about John, or what he is up to click here